HYPE CHECK: Salem Slurs Their Way Through a Sluggish Set At Glasslands, Leaves Us Feeling Kinda Creeped Out

[Photos from John Holland’s Flickr account]

The Artist and Their Latest Single: Salem, Frost/Legend 7-inch (Audraglint)

What’s Been Said: “Songs like the dreamy and haunting ‘Whenusleep’ are where those Cocteau Twins/the Knife comparisons are coming from; this one’s almost pensively sweet in a bizarre way, until you listen to the lyrics. I love this band.” – Gorilla Vs. Bear

“Salem have always been great at making music that is fully immersive. It could be 90 degrees and crystal clear out, and as soon as one of their songs comes on, we instantly feel like curling up in a corner and not moving for days. Sounds fun!” – FADER

“Listening to Salem is like listening to beautiful songs being sung in foreign languages. The emotion and gist of the meaning are there, but the details are fleeting.” – V

“Where Burial finds romance in the darkest night, Salem’s dubstep-drenched electro exists in a world of prostitution, violence and abuse, employing bizarre half-tempo rap sections that growl like burst exhausts.” – NME

Our Take: The limited singles that’ve trickled out of Salem’s camp are as queasy and creepy as their suggestive record sleeves, as if a CD-R of scuzzy hip-hop instrumentals was dusted in ‘ludes and ran through sheets of dry ice. And since the vocals are stuck in an alternate dimension between the Dirty South and 4AD’s back catalog, it’s nearly impossible to tell where one track ends and another begins.

This is a good and a bad thing. On one hand, it’s easy to get swept up in Salem’s masterful moods, which come across like Enya for mental patients and sizzurp-sipping darkwave fans (i.e. us). With that in mind, Salem could also be looked at as nothing but a smoke-and-mirrors act, running a couple woozy formulas into the ground while baiting writers with their sordid backstory.

That’s a really cynical way of looking at things, though; after all, Salem have generally avoided the press and anything resembling a proper tour for a couple years now. This Butt magazine Q&A is pretty revealing, though.

Hypeworthy? Musically, yes. Having just devoured their digital oeuvre, we finally ‘get’ why fellow tastemakers like the FADER have flipped their shit over Salem. Unlike most ‘troubled artists’, they’re onto a truly-fresh sound and seem like the real deal. Hell, we wanted to give them a hug and a high-five at Glasslands last night…when we weren’t falling asleep.

Here’s the thing: Much like Washed Out’s Santos premiere late last year, Salem clearly aren’t ready to translate their tranquilized tracks in a live setting, especially one that draws Michael Stipe, Terence Koh and The New Yorker out to the middle of bumfuck Brooklyn on a Tuesday night. Which makes sense. After all, frontman John Holland once told NME,  “We don’t like showing our faces, because we don’t like what we look like. And we’ve never played live, it seems dull.”

Here’s an idea, then: let’s lay off the Salem criticism until they whittle around 50 tracks–so we’re told–down to their LP debut for Iamsound. Until then, no more live shows; no more know-it-all industry eggheads; no more interviews about John’s past as a male prostitute; nothing. Let these crazy kids do what they do best: craft skin-crawling cuts in a roach-infested studio until they feel fully cleansed. We’ll be here to pick up the pieces later.


1. alkuholiks by PSYCHO DRAMA
2. pig fucker – SALEM
3. the end of the world (drag rmx) – SKEETER DAVIS
4. seaw – oOoOoo
5. party animal dirge – AIDS 3D
6. round one (SALEM rmx) – SALEM ft. GUCCI MANE
7. hoodrych – SALEM
8. whispering winds (drag rmx) – THE BEACH BOYS
9. szxc – SINISTAS
10. mumbia – oOoOoo
11. water – SALEM
12. hey lover boy – TWISTA
13. track 41 – THA POPE
14. shallow tears (drag rmx) – LIGHT ASYLUM

1-PEARL – Pearl’s Dream
2-NEOPHYTE – I will have that power
3-DJ NATE – I’m a Burn
4-DJ NATE – Ghostmix
5-YOUNG CREAM – Angie Juke
6-AiDS 3D – Back Once Again (Forever)
7-THA POPE – Track 41
8-UNKNOWN – Track 20 Chicago Juke
9-NEOPHYTE – Catastrophe
10-THREAT MISSES – Juke that Girl